FIFA World Cup: Cameroon come and go in a cloud of controversy
Salvador, Brazil: Cameroon exited the running at the World Cup on Wednesday in the same turbulent way they arrived with a glum future ahead for the African country that once held the footballing world’s imagination.
A violently petulant display is nothing new from Cameroon but reached a new low when Benoit Assou Ekotto head-butted team mate Benjamin Moukandjo towards the end of the 4-0 capitulation to Croatia in Manaus that condemned the Indomitable Lions to an early departure from the tournament.
Their chances effectively ended before halftime when Alex Song was sent off for elbowing Croatia’s Mario Mandzukic in the back, right in front of the Portuguese referee who had no hesitation in handing the midfield strong man his marching orders.
Cameroon`s second Group A loss at the World Cup in Brazil means their last game against the host nation on Monday is of academic interest only. Injury means it is unlikely to offer a farewell stage for Samuel Eto’o, their talismanic captain who has been at the heart of much of their turmoil in recent years.
A bitter feud between Eto’o and Song split the squad at the last World Cup four years ago, where Cameroon lost all of their first round games. This time Eto’o led the team in a strike action on the eve of their departure for Brazil, delaying their expensively-hired charter plane to squeeze extra money out of an embattled football federation (FECAFOOT).
Eto’o had been banned three years ago for leading a similar strike which forced the cancellation of an international match but squabbling over money has become almost a right of passage in the team.
Cameroon now face an uncertain future with Eto’o battling with knee problems, plus an uncertain club future at Chelsea, and the football federation still in a state of flux.
Their last president was jailed for alleged fraud and after being briefly suspended by FIFA last year, a ‘normalisation committee’ was put in place to revise the statutes, conduct elections and manage the daily affairs of FECAFOOT.
But they did not complete their task by the FIFA deadline and were given an extension to November by world football’s governing body.
Cameroon have been to the World Cup an African record seven times, going unbeaten on debut in 1982 in Spain but exiting after three draws in the group stage and then catching the imagination of football fans worldwide with their unlikely run to the quarter-finals in Italy in 1990, where they beat defending champions Argentina in the opening game.
But since those heroics they have won a single match in 14 games at five subsequent finals – against Saudi Arabia in Japan in 2002.
Cameroon’s distinctive green, red and yellow strip has become an iconic item of sporting fashion worldwide but so too has the image of a disorganised, self-serving and greed-filled team and federation increasingly out of step with the advances in the modern game.